Shawnee News-Star Weekender Feb 16 2019 Becky Emerson Carlberg Walking across the dark kitchen floor early one morning, my feet went crunch, crunch.   Flipping on the light, I discovered pieces of pizza crust lay scattered across the tiles.   Some enterprising cat had discovered the plastic container with compost scraps and enjoyed a midnight snack.   Now […]

Shawnee News-Star Weekender Feb 16 2019

Foliose lichens on oak branch

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Walking across the dark kitchen floor early one morning, my feet went crunch, crunch.   Flipping on the light, I discovered pieces of pizza crust lay scattered across the tiles.   Some enterprising cat had discovered the plastic container with compost scraps and enjoyed a midnight snack.   Now both cats sat side-by-side, looking totally innocent while waiting for their breakfast.

The thistle feeder had disappeared from its usual hanging place on a high branch.   Over a foot long, the top was bright yellow.   How could I not find it anywhere?   The opossum routinely digs holes under the feeders     The raccoon probably brought a flashlight, a ladder and drove away in a four-wheeler with the thistle seeds.

Most of last Saturday, February 9th, was at McLoud High School.   The Oklahoma Native Plant Society (ONPS) held their Indoor Outing that cold, cloudy, blustery day.   These are people who truly care about nature and worry about her future. The members, clad in coats, scarves and gloves, gathered together inside the toasty cafeteria.   Snacks, drinks and vendors"Wild Things Nursery, the Oklahoma Mushroom Enthusiasts, Blue Thumb, traditional fiber arts by 'Across Generations' and others"were here.   After a short meeting we traipsed outside to another building where rotating workshops were to be held in warm classrooms.

Elm Buds

My first workshop was with Constance Murray.   The one-hour Plant Taxonomy course on identification of trees focused on winter bark, limbs and buds.   Quite different from the spring and summer characteristics using leaves, flowers and fruits. Loupes (10X magnifying lens) came in handy to observe features while we plugged our way through the dichotomous key.   This reference offered one choice or another as one progressed through a series of steps.   The twig has thorns or doesn't, the leaf scars are circular or V-shaped, the buds are pointed or rounded and so on. FYI:   roses have prickles.   These arise from the outer layer of the stem.   Thorns are modified stems. Remember this when you are bleeding from being stabbed by your beloved prickly, not thorny, rose bush.  Copies of the 'Distribution and Identification of Woody Plants of Oklahoma in the Winter Condition' by Dr. Paul Buck are available from ONPS.

Lichen Cups on redbud trunk

After lunch came Lichens with Sheila Strawn.   She has studied lichens for over 15 years and is a bona-fide lichenologist.   Lichens live everywhere, even the Antarctic.   It's the winter food for reindeer and hummers line their tiny nests with lichens.   Except for this type of workshop, there are no lichen courses taught in Oklahoma.   Sheila assembled her own 'Lichen Study Guide for Oklahoma and Surrounding States' published in 2017.   In the laboratory dissecting scopes and tools had been placed on tall tables.   A variety of colorful lichens were tucked into boxes or displayed on the stage plates of the scopes.

Lichen identification is a mine field.   Recent estimates: fungi species"5 million, algae species"30,000 to 1 million and cyanobacteria species"3,000 to 6,000. One lichen is composed of one or more species of fungi and one or more algal species and possibly one cyanobacteria species.   The number of combinations these organisms form could be astronomical, but Sheila has narrowed her interest to lichens in the Southern Great Plains region.   The University of Kansas guesstimates about 22,000 lichens live in the plains. Easy.

Exceptions abound everywhere, from structures, pigmentation and reproduction to the rocks or trees that serve as host substrates.   Some basic descriptions still apply to lichen body types. Foliose appear as small leaves, crustose seems stuck directly onto the surface, and fruticose look like tiny shrubs.

If you want to collect lichens, written permission is usually a must, along with bringing a first aid kit, goggles, knives, chisels, water, cell phone, field journal, hand lens and paper bags. Identification can be affirmed by chemical tests, UV light, comparison to lichen keys, photos or just ask a lichenologist. Sheila showed one picture of four people deep into lichen examinations on a rocky substrate.   All were facing away from the camera on their knees, tails in the air.   She quipped 'this is how lichenologists end up.'   She could identify each person.   Lichen humor.

My last workshop was conducted by Brittany Jordan.   Do you know what smudging is?   She introduced us to smudging with native plants, a Native American smoke-purification ritual of burning herbs to cleanse negative energies. In early Judaism, incense was part of the purification ceremony.   Anglican and Catholic religions have incorporated bells and smells.   Incense has been a psychological and medicinal tool used in Buddhism and Hinduism for hundreds of years.   Ancient Vedic texts state incense masked odors and created a pleasurable scent.   There was a time when people did not bath as frequently and I suspect the herbs added a nice distracting touch to the smell of a group of stinky people.

As you assemble the proper ingredients for a smudge bundle, good things may happen if your skin or organs come in contact with the essential oils of these herbs.   Use plants from your own garden. They bring positive energy with them.     Common sage, white sage or redcedar are the work horses of the bundle.   Sage has been used worldwide for its mind-clearing effects.   Tip cuttings emit the scent of essential oils but stem cuttings give off more of a smoky odor.

To construct a bundle, Brittany braided Sweet Grass (Hierochloe odorata), a plant with long lasting fragrance but poor smolder qualities, and placed it in the center of the soon-to-be-bundle. Rosemary and lavender also form good interiors. Four cuttings of red sage (Salvia roemeriana) were laid over each other end to end, wrapped around the sweet grass, folded and bound with cotton string. The ends were then neatly trimmed. Always use good quality plants and positive intentions when assembling a smudge bundle.

New Smudge Bundles

Let the bundle dry two weeks. This reduces the smoke and increases the odor.   Our group walked outside for a brief smudge ceremony.   While we froze, the smudge bundle was lit at one end.   The fire was blown out allowing the bundle to smolder.   A small Tibetan bell bowl was struck to open and cleanse the area.

Brittany demonstrated how to use the smudge bundle to spiritually cleanse her body.  She took the sage bundle and moved it in a clockwise manner from head to toe then switched hands and waved it behind her body back up to her head. She passed it to the next person.   Soon we all had smoked ourselves.   The same pattern was then followed using smoldering Jasmine incense.   Throughout the demonstration the Tibetan bowl was rung two more times.   The smudge stick and incense were placed inside a shell.   Our negative energies had been released to the icy wind.   It was a cool experience.   Note:   If smudging a room, feathers can move the energy-laden smoke around to help 'pressurize' and purify the area.

Why not investigate the Oklahoma Native Plant Society.   Discover more beautiful native plants than you could imagine.